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Sinking Ships and Solar-Powered Planes

This is how Dawaune Lamont Hayes describes the journalism industry these days:

"We're on a sinking ship trying to build a solar-powered airplane."

For the past couple of years, Hayes has been using all of the tools he can find to create that "solar-powered airplane" as founder and director of NOISE (North Omaha Information Support Everyone), which is a community-led news organization focused on informing the people of North Omaha.
Image Courtesy NOISE
Image Courtesy NOISE
For Hayes, that means thinking outside the box in an effort to push journalism forward. Take his project with the Omaha Star, for example. As Hayes explained it in 2018 during a talk at West Virginia University, the partnership was to try to find ways to utilize visual art to get a younger audience engaged with print again. His vision for that project was bold -- something he strives for every day.

"Don't be afraid to be too creative," Hayes said. "That's what we need right now. Journalism is an awesome field, but what it has lacked for a long time is creativity."

Hayes learned a lot from his collaboration with the Star, and that led NOISE to try experimenting with a magazine format to get important topics -- like the history of redlining in Omaha -- to a generation that normally may not pick up a newspaper.

NOISE's next 'zine will be published in August both in print and online. The focus will be on Omaha's Black civil rights history, which is extensive, considering that Malcolm X was born there.

Hayes said he's a big fan of the 'zine culture and small publications that encapsulate a variety of ideas.  And, he said the idea of creating a printed product is still important. "I recognize that something tangible and tactile can be just as, if not more, effective" than an online-only publication, Hayes said.

But at the same time, he knows that print is a finite product. So the online version of a Black civil rights history timeline will take on a life of its own. NOISE will invite the community to submit their own images and stories to the timeline, especially from the uprising during the late '60s.

That kind of interaction is key to NOISE's success, Hayes said.

"News needs to be inviting," he said. "It's not just that we are going to tell you what's happening. But we are an ecosystem. The readers who engage with our content are just as, if not more, knowledgable about things."

Listening is just as important as telling for NOISE, and that stems from the organization's early work with the Listening Post Collective. The knowledge learned from listening to the community has stuck with Hayes throughout his tenure at NOISE.

"I go back to that (Listening Post Collective) document often," Hayes said. "It's rooted in honesty."

"There's simplicity in that," he continued. "Sometimes we felt ourselves get away from that. But you really have to come back and say, 'What's up?' and have a real conversation about it. The benefit that NOISE has is because of our relationship and direct personal contacts. We are just as affected by the news as anyone else. ... It's a grounding and you're always trying to keep doing better. Find entry opportunities for people to come into your space, but also ask to be in their space to share information."

Hayes stressed that NOISE is the platform for the news. NOISE is not dictating what's news or what's not.

"As someone who studied journalism and teaches it to others, the No. 1 principle is listening and listen well," he said. 

Hayes and NOISE continue to listen and learn, not just from the public, but from the American Journalism Project cohort they are a part of, which includes the likes of City Bureau in Chicago. In fact, NOISE is working to create a documenters program in conjunction with the Heartland Workers Center in the spirit of City Bureau. That will enable people in North Omaha who are interested in bettering their community to expand NOISE's reach by attending local meetings.

"There are a ton of public boards and commissions that gather with little attendance or oversight," Hayes said. "When someone from the public is just there, the conversation changes."

Because of all of the events NOISE has been a part of the past couple of years, they have accumulated a broad network of people (about 700 in total) interested in helping their community.  The challenge is finding ways to turn that energy into something actionable. NOISE has asked this group what they think their strengths are. If they said they are good storytellers, they will be invited to documenter training, with a goal of having them attend community meetings.

Not everything they document will be turned into stories, but it helps an outlet like NOISE so it doesn't overextend itself. At the same time it empowers others and creates an effective way to hold people accountable.

That matches up well with two of NOISE's three primary pillars (civics, community and culture) and it also helps NOISE plan out its roadmap for growth and sustainability.

And, of course, it's the right thing to do -- empowering the community to become more involved and help each other. 

As Hayes says: "You have the power to tell your story, so do it -- by any means necessary and that's available to you"

Suddenly, that solar-powered airplane doesn't seem that far off now, does it?

Buy Local ... If You Can

Rick Edmonds over at Poynter published an in-depth article this week about how difficult it is to pry newspapers away from hedge fund-owned chains.

To quote Edmonds in the article:
The difficulty in striking a deal is straightforward. One of the biggest attractions of chain ownership is the opportunity to centralize and reduce costs. If a chain sells one or several of its papers, it is left with more or less the same overhead but that much less revenue. It’s not a move that makes basic business sense.

So it would take what newspaper brokers John McGovern and Julie Bergman called in an interview “a very strong offer.” That’s if the chain owner will even entertain talking about a sale.

Once the deal closes, the local owner needs to disassemble what had been consolidated — creating operating departments, putting tech and editing systems in place and swallowing those expenses. Editorial enhancements will cost extra.

New owners, particularly those fresh to the business, may soon find revenue and profit pressures overwhelming. Paul Huntsman decided his family was facing unsustainable losses three years after buying The Salt Lake Tribune in 2016 from Alden’s MediaNews Group. The Salt Lake Tribune converted to nonprofit ownership in November 2019 with an expanded group of backers and a chance to get tax-deductible support from foundations and readers, following the public broadcast model.
Now, there are some smaller newspaper groups out there that will cough up a paper from time to time. We've seen it happen in West Virginia. But that's more likely to happen once the group has soured on the publication, and if the publication is still making good money, it would take a very large offer for the current owners to part ways. In this economy, that's not a wise move.

That's why the family-owned papers that we're focusing on in the NewStart program are so important. In most cases, the owners want to see the papers continue on with strong publishers who will be a part of the community. And we want to see the same thing. We've got some interesting conversations going on right now with our NewStart cohort, and hopefully that will turn into a win-win for them and a few rural communities out there.

RELATED: A Corporation Sees No Future in Small Ky. Papers; Local Journalists Beg to Differ

NewStart Update

Speaking of NewStart ... if you're interested in becoming a media entrepreneur during our next enrollment period, or helping someone become an entrepreneur, email me at jim.iovino@mail.wvu.edu and we can set up a phone call or Zoom meeting and chat.

And here's something to consider: If you're an owner or publisher who is grooming someone in your newsroom to eventually take over, why not consider enrolling them in our one-year, online master's degree in Media Solutions and Innovation from West Virginia University? It would make a worthwhile investment in your publication's future.
 

The Power of Local Media

Local news outlets are still relevant, example No. 16,066:

Quick Hits


Now on to the latest news and notes from around the world of local journalism:

Learn: “There’s a lot of ways that the future of news is going to look, and we just have to be more forgiving and open and able to see more of these experiments so that we can see which of them are worth continuing and adding fuel to,” Krewson said. “Smaller media organizations are more agile and better able to pivot than the monsters that they compete against. And that ability to pivot and be flexible and listen to those audiences and shift with audience habits is what's going to make them, in the end, more relevant, [to] become a true resource for news that people can use and that can really implement and make a difference in the communities they serve, as well as be able to defend that niche of that audience they're making a difference.” "To sustain a business, you need… well… money. So I came up with something we call a time wall. It launched about 18 months ago. It features a selection of our stories are available to members first, but later to the greater public (usually within a few hours). This gives a tangible benefit to members without locking everyone else out. It also eliminates that anticipointment factor. The stories are invisible to non-members until they are released. We don’t do this on every — or even most- stories, but it adds value." "Set to launch this fall, the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab) is an “independent media resource hub” founded by 10 leading news media outlets in the state, offering newsrooms the opportunity to collaborate with each other in a physical space at the Rocky Mountain Public Media’s new Buell Center for Public Media in downtown Denver." “The wild card is really ‘What is COVID going to do for our long-term projection?’ ... We don’t know what philanthropy is going to look like in the second half of 2020 and going into 2021 as the economy continues to rebuild,” Napier-Pearce said. "E&P publisher Mike Blinder checks in with Walter E. Hussman Jr., WEHCO’s CEO and publisher of the Democrat-Gazette, to see how the project is going and how they have expanded the concept to other WEHCO properties." "Projects to fight mosquito-borne disease and to bring reporters to American “news deserts” are among the finalists in the MacArthur Foundation’s new competition to give away $100 million." "As part of the Journalism Crisis Project, the Tow Center continues to tabulate an increasingly grim number of cutbacks in the field; reduced, suspended, or aborted print runs make up a notable portion of the list. Tow found that more than a hundred outlets scaled down their print production since the beginning of the pandemic." "By aggregating provenance information and presenting it as part of news search results, users may be
able to make more informed decisions about which articles to read and which publishers to trust. We report on early analysis and user feedback, highlighting the critical tension between the desire for media transparency and the risks of disrupting an already fragile ecosystem." This guide is about what engagement looks like and what it takes to do it well. My hope is that it fuels colleagues’ efforts nationwide who struggle for recognition and support in newsroom workflows, as well as helps editors and reporters realize that engagement is not separate from editorial, but plays a fundamental role in crafting relevant, powerful, and nuanced journalism.


This An' 'At: “I’d be going door to door, or meeting with people at a diner or a fair, for example, and in the most isolated areas, a lot of people had no idea that their own congressman had been indicted,” McMurray told me. Orleans County, west of Rochester, he said, was “one of the toughest places.” Some people didn’t even know who Collins was, and many were incredulous when McMurray told them of the federal charges.

See Something, Share Something


That's all for this week. As always, thanks for reading.

A reminder: If you have a success story, or know someone else doing something great, I want to hear about it, and share it in this newsletter. So reach out to me and we'll chat. You can reply to this email, or hit up NewStart on Twitter @wvunewstart, and you can @ me @jimiovino.

If you, your organization, or anyone else you know would like to fund a NewStart fellowship position or would want to offer a scholarship in Year 2, feel free to reach out to me. I'd be happy to talk! Seriously, I would love to offer more fellowships and scholarships, and you can help.

And don't forget, you can find NewStart online at newstart.media

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Thanks again, stay safe, and we'll talk next week.
Jim.
 
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